The Return of the Repressed


Wolfgang Streeck in The New Left Review:

What is significant about the politics of internationalization is the conformity with which those described as ‘elites’, contemptuously by the ‘populists’ and approvingly by themselves, react to the new parties. ‘Populism’ is diagnosed in normal internationalist usage as a cognitive problem. Its supporters are supposed to be people who demand ‘simple solutions’ because they do not understand the necessarily complex solutions that are so indefatigably and successfully delivered by the tried and tested forces of internationalism; their representatives are cynics who promise ‘the people’ the ‘simple solutions’ they crave, even though they know that there are no alternatives to the complex solutions of the technocrats. In this way, the emergence of the new parties can be explained as a Great Regression on the part of the Little People, manifesting itself as a lack both of education and of respect for the educated. This can be accompanied by ‘discourses’ about the desirability of abolishing referendums or handing political decisions over to unpolitical experts and authorities.

At the level of everyday life, this leads to the moral and cultural exclusion of anti-globalization parties and their supporters. The declaration of their cognitive immaturity is followed by moral denunciation of their calls for a national politics providing a bulwark against the risks and side effects of internationalization. The relevant battle cry, which is to mobilize painful memories of racism and war, is ‘ethno-nationalism’. ‘Ethno-nationalists’ are not up to dealing with the challenges of globalization, neither the economic ones—‘global competition’—nor the moral ones. Their ‘fears and concerns’, as the official phrase puts it, ‘are to be taken seriously’, but only in the mode of social work. Protests against material and moral degradation are suspected of being essentially fascist, especially now that the former advocates of the plebeian classes have switched to the globalization party, so that if their former clients wish to complain about the pressures of capitalist modernization, the only language at their disposal is the pre-political, untreated linguistic raw material of everyday experiences of deprivation, economic or cultural. This results in constant breaches of the rules of civilized public speech, which in turn can trigger indignation at the top and mobilization at the bottom. In response, losers and refusers of internationalization try to elude moral censure by exiting from public media and entering the ‘social media’. In this way they can make use of the most globalized of all infrastructures to build up their own separatist communication circles in which they need not fear being reprimanded for being culturally and morally backward.

More here.